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November 14, 2013 6:02 pm
David Cameron’s industrial policy received a boost from one of India’s best known manufacturing chiefs during his 24-hour visit to the country.
During a conference in New Delhi, Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of the Tata group, praised the business environment in the UK.
Talking directly to Mr Cameron in a televised question and answer session, Mr Tata said: “[The UK] is a very open environment. We’ve become quite used to having multiple roadblocks in most things that we do here and it’s been a very refreshing change.”
The comments will be welcome – the prime minister has struggled to lift British trade with India to the levels of other European countries, such as France and Germany.
Mr Cameron on Thursday repeated his desire to make the UK “India’s partner of choice” after a meeting with Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister.
The trip is Mr Cameron’s second to the country within a year, and the third of his premiership, but ministers and government officials worry that the diplomatic push is not yet paying off.
The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that two former ministers – Jeremy Browne, the Liberal Democrat former Foreign Office minister, and Lord Davies, the former Labour trade minister – both think more needs to be done to improve trade links between the two countries.
The prime minister is leading a large trade delegation, including Sir Andrew Witty, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline and representatives from Diageo, the drinks company, and Reed Elsevier, the publisher.
But he was forced to defend his government’s immigration policy, which has caused anger in India over perceptions that the Home Office is refusing visas to legitimate students who want to study in Britain. He dismissed the idea that Indian migrants were being frozen out of the UK as a “myth”.
Meanwhile, Lord Mandelson, a former Labour business secretary, publicly attacked the lack of progress on a trade deal between India and the EU, which he began when EU trade commissioner.
Lord Mandelson asked Mr Cameron during the New Delhi conference why the negotiations were “stuck very badly and deeply in the weeds”.
Mr Cameron responded: “There hasn’t been an attractive enough deal [yet].”
Negotiations have foundered for several reasons, including concerns among Europe’s carmakers about unequal market access.
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